3/9/2013 11:01 A.M. ET
Japan, Netherlands to meet for spot in San Fran
By Jason Coskrey / Special to MLB.com
TOKYO -- Japan moved to within a win of the World Baseball Classic's final round with an epic 4-3 victory over Chinese Taipei in 10 innings on Friday night.
Thousands of fans watched the game live, and more followed on television or through the Internet. The Kingdom of the Netherlands' players, who will face Japan on Sunday, were not among them.
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"We didn't watch the game," Dutch team veteran Andruw Jones said after his team's workout Saturday at Tokyo Dome. "We were relaxing and just focusing on the next day that we are going to play and trying to take a rest day.
"I think we just took the day off to just relax and enjoy our day off and wait to see who we're going to face, and its going to be Japan. So now we have to just prepare for that."
The Japanese and the Dutch will square off Sunday at 7 p.m. locally/6 a.m. ET in a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes, with the winner earning a berth in the final round at San Francisco's AT&T Park.
Both teams held brief practice sessions at Tokyo Dome Saturday morning.
A win over Japan would complete the journey the Kingdom of the Netherlands began during the first Classic in 2006, when the Dutch finished 1-2. The Kingdom of the Netherlands followed that with a surprising run to the second round in '09, on the strength of a pair of upset victories over the Dominican Republic.
The Dutch have already knocked off Korea (by a score of 5-0) and Cuba (6-2) in this year's Classic.
"Our confidence is up right now," outfielder Wladimir Balentien said. "We've been hitting the ball much better now. I think everybody is doing a great job on that, and if we keep doing what we're doing, we have a great chance to advance to the next round."
Japan hopes to have gained some momentum with its dramatic win over Chinese Taipei on Friday night. The Japanese needed rallies in the eighth and ninth innings to send the game into extra frames, then won on Sho Nakata's sacrifice fly in the 10th.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands qualified for Sunday's game with a win over Cuba on Friday. Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop was a triple away from the cycle and drove in four runs -- three on a home run in the sixth -- to lead the way, and Curt Smith also homered.
"One-through-three in their lineup are Major League players," Japan coach Masataka Nashida said. "Then at No. 4, there is Balentien, then Jones."
The Dutch also turned a Classic record-tying five double plays during their win over Cuba, with four coming on ground balls.
"We've got great young talent on our team, and they know how to play defense," Jones said. "I think that's a plus that we've got. If we eliminate mistakes and errors, we've got a good chance to advance."
Balentien is no stranger to Japan or Tokyo Dome, having spent the past two seasons with Nippon Professional Baseball's Tokyo Yakult Swallows, who play in nearby Jingu Stadium. Balentien hit .179 with a home run and five RBIs in the Big Egg last season.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is sending Rob Cordemans to the mound to start the game, and Japan will counter with Kenta Maeda.
"There will be a lot of tension for sure," Maeda said. "But pitching under this kind of circumstance will give me some experience."
Maeda beat China in his most recent outing, striking out six over five innings of one-hit ball in a 5-2 Japanese victory.
"He's a great pitcher," said Balentien, who was 2-for-9 last season against Maeda, who plays for NPB's Hiroshima Carp. "But we have great hitters, too, so it will be a nice ballgame to watch."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.